SC could scale back anti-corruption law

U.S. Supreme Court building

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments on an anti corruption law. And whether it should be scaled back or struck down. Prosecutors have used the law for a couple of decades to convict people in corruption cases. From Washington, here's Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: The law says CEOs and public officials have to act in the interests of their companies or constituents. Specifically, the law says it's fraud to deprive someone of, quote, "the intangible right of honest services."

Say you're the CEO of a failing company, and you use some accounting maneuvers that make the company appear healthier than it is. That could be illegal under the honest services law. Critics of the law say it 's too vague.

Timothy O'Toole is a white-collar criminal defense lawyer:

Timothy O'Toole: It's very hard to tell before the fact what's permitted and what's not permitted. What that creates from a defendant's perspective is you don't know where the line is, so you don't know when you've crossed it.

Melanie Sloan disagrees. She heads the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She says the law is a valuable tool against corruption, which can be hard to prove. And the line between legal and illegal is clear -- especially for the defendants in today's Supreme Court cases.

Melanie Sloan: Even kindergartners would know that what these guys were doing was wrong. THey just never thought they'd get caught.

The two cases before the court today involve a jailed newspaper tycoon and a former Alaska state legislator. Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling was also convicted under the honest services law. His case is expected before the court next year.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Comments

I agree to American Public Media's Terms and Conditions.
With Generous Support From...